Home / Education / The sensory seeking child
The sensory seeking child

The sensory seeking child

romy kruger 1By Romy Kruger

Shhh…Quiet! Sit Still! Don’t Touch That! Be Careful!!

Do you find yourself saying the above words on repeat all day every day and then still have to deal with bruises, cuts and broken furniture?

Last month we looked at the sensory sensitive child but now lets look at the other end of the spectrum – the sensory seeking child.

The sensory seeking child often presents as a hyperactive child or a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It’s important to acknowledge that ADHD and sensory seeking behaviour are not the same thing although they can present similarly. ADHD responds to medicine whereas sensory seeking behaviour is unlikely to respond to medicine but will require sensory integration therapy.

The sensory seeking child has a “high sensory threshold”. This means he needs more input than somebody else to illicit a response. Whilst the sensory sensitive child was overly responsive to the tiniest sensory stimulus, the seeking child often doesn’t appear to notice much of what is going on around him and will thus create more input for himself.

The sensory seeking child is often described as always on-the-go. He needs to move all the time! If he doesn’t get natural ways of moving throughout his day, through sport, physical activity or even household chores, he will find other, sometimes non-functional and seemingly destructive ways to get that movement that his body so craves. This sometimes presents in the form of physically fighting with others, crashing and bashing, cartwheels and handstands, fiddling and bouncing and constant wriggling on the chair. Elastic bands or squishy fidget toys are useful to have handy for the seeking child to play with, especially when they are seeking more input without an opportunity to get it.

Exploring the environment through touching everything is common behaviour in a sensory seeking child. He needs more input so he will touch everything and everyone, sometimes to the point of annoying others or even at times to the point of being inappropriate. The seeking child will need to touch all the objects on a shelf or all the textures on someone’s outfit. Having exposure to different textures through art, outdoor play or even having a multi-textured feeling board at home could be helpful to the tactile seeking child.

The sensory seeking child will often not respond to his name being called and you may find you have to repeat his name a few times, say it quite loudly or touch him whilst saying his name. Saying his name alone is not enough input for the auditory system to evoke a response from the child. He will often create more auditory input for himself, banging toys together, tapping on the table, humming, making mouth sounds or singing. Whilst this can be very distracting and irritating to others, it can often help the sensory seeking child to feel more focused. A seeking child may actually thrive off working in a noisier environment or whilst listening to music.

Strong flavours such as salt and vinegar, chilli, spices and mint are often most appealing to the sensory seeking child. He can also often be seen placing non-food items in his mouth, exploring his world through more than just sight and touch but through his oral system too. Chewing gum often works as a great regulator for the seeking child as it gives him additional proprioceptive input through his mouth. Strong flavoured mint chewing gum is a bonus.

Sensory seeking in the visual system is one of the reasons why it is often perceived as ADHD. The child is constantly looking around, taking in as much visual input as possible or even creating more for himself. You may find the seeking child gazing towards the moving shadows between the trees, or flicking the wheels of his toy car more than actually playing with it or thriving off brightly coloured fast moving TV shows. Seeking through the visual system often draws the child’s attention away from where he is supposed to be looking and can interfere with learning, focus and concentration.

Sensory seeking behaviour is a sub type of sensory processing disorder. A child’s sensory system is not interpreting sensory stimuli appropriately and therefore the child is always seeking more. Telling the child to sit still, stop touching, keep quiet or calm down is unlikely to change the behaviour. The child is not doing it simply because he wants to but because he has an innate need to. It is therefore important to try identify what your child’s sensory seeking needs are and to help integrate more natural and appropriate ways of meeting these cravings into your child’s everyday routines and activities. If you feel that sensory seeking behaviour is interfering with your child’s school or home participation it is recommended that you visit an occupational therapist for an assessment.